Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Every possible Stanley Cup playoff matchup we could see in the last two rounds, ranked

We’re making our way through the second round of the playoffs and, it’s probably fair to say it’s been a mixed bag so far. Some of the games, especially in the West and Central, have been a relentless adrenaline rush of high-octane hockey. Other games, especially in the North, have been, uh, not that. But that’s okay, because the beauty of the first two rounds of the playoffs is that there’s always something for everybody.

Great. What’s next?

Within days, we’ll be moving forward to the next round, and that’s where the spotlight gets brightest. We won’t have multiple games a night to choose from. No more flipping back and forth, or abandoning a boring game for a more interesting one. Once we get to the third round and beyond, you can’t push any matchup to the background. They’re all front-and-center, all of the time. So they’d better be good.

Will this year’s matchups be good? We don’t know exactly what they’ll be yet, but the possibilities are narrowing. With last night’s elimination of the Jets, we’re down to seven teams. If you run the combinations, that gives us six potential round three pairings that are still in play, and a dozen more in the Stanley Cup final, for 18 possible matchups that could be in our future.

Only three of those will actually happen, but I believe in being prepared. So today, let’s look at each potential matchup that’s still on the table, and rank them from the least appetizing to the ones we should all be rooting for. Will you agree with each and every ranking? (Checks list.) Yeah actually, you will, I think I pretty much nailed it.

A quick spoiler alert: Most of these are actually really good. We could be in for a really fun final month. Let’s start getting ahead of ourselves…

18: Canadiens vs. Islanders

The matchup: An Islanders team with the reputation for trying to grind out boring 2-1 wins that put everyone to sleep faces off with a team that actually does that.

Or as we’d call it: The Pierre Turgeon Cup.

When it could happen: Stanley Cup final.

Best-case scenario: This matchup doesn’t happen.

History: They’ve faced each other in the postseason four times, most recently in the 1993 conference final that nobody remembers. That’s weird, right? Those Habs were a team of destiny and the Islanders were a classic underdog story and they met in the conference final, and I have zero recollection of any of it. This might be a me problem.

Worth considering: Look, a win is a win and we know that defense is what works in the playoffs. And it’s not like either of these teams plays a boring, passive trap. They forecheck relentlessly and battle for every inch of the ice, and on a certain level that’s brilliant hockey to watch. Maybe if you millennials didn’t grow up on video games and need the instant gratification of “goals” and “scoring chances” and “entertainment”, you could actually appreciate real hockey.

But yeah, this would be completely unwatchable.

Overall rating: C-. The odds of us getting this as a final are roughly 90%, by the way.


17: Hurricanes vs. Bruins

The matchup: A matchup that’s great on paper but hasn’t been very good in reality gets a third straight chance to live up to the hype.

Or as we’d call it: The Glen Wesley Cup. No? Dougie Hamilton maybe?

When it could happen: Third round.

Best-case scenario: After having their season ended by the Bruins in short series in each of the last two years, Carolina shows that they’ve learned something and show up ready to give Boston a tougher fight.

History: The 2019 and 2020 series lasted a total of nine games, with Boston winning eight of them. They have two other meetings in the Hurricanes era, which they’ve split, plus two more from the Whaler days.

Worth considering: The 2019 series was a bust, with Boston outscoring Carolina 17-5. Last year was better with four one-goal games. But, for some reason, these two teams don’t seem to click when it comes to classic playoff excitement. Third time’s the charm?

Overall rating: C+. Honestly, this wouldn’t be awful. If it’s the second-worst matchup to look forward to, we’re in decent shape.


16: Canadiens vs. Lightning

The matchup: The defending champs face the postseason’s best underdog story.

Or as we’d call it: The rematch of the series that gave us the stupid awful no-good offside review.

When it could happen: Stanley Cup final.

Best-case scenario: Can a team with a top goalie and a commitment to defense shut down an opponent with arguably the most firepower in the entire league? Sigh, let’s pretend we don’t already know the answer is yes.

History: They’ve faced off in the playoffs three times, including back-to-back meetings in 2014 and 2015, the latter of which still haunts us to this day. Habs fans might also recognize Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev, so that’s fun.

Worth considering: These two teams are normally in the same division, and the Lightning are 10-1-1 against Montreal over their last three seasons.

Overall rating: C+. Am I holding a grudge over the offside thing? Absolutely, thanks for noticing.

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